The wait continues for a serviceable PC port for Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.
Having exhausted the previous games in the series I’ve decided to look to the past while I await the future.
Conventional wisdom dictates that prior to Batman:Arkham Asylum, but that’s both poppycock and balderdash
There’s no debating that Asylum was a game-changer in 2009, pushing the superhero genre beyond of video gaming beyond the “paint job on a generic, existing game” template of yesteryear (yes there were a lot of Streets of Rage clones in capes doing the rounds in the early 90s!). Going through the back catalogue post previous generations of consoles, though, it’s surprising just how many gems from the past there are (even if they’ve been subject to less than favourable reviews).
So, I dusted off all the old consoles (because who uses emulators? Certainly not me!) and revisited the Top 10 of my childhood / youth / when I was a bit less old.
10- Batman The Movie (1989) – Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, C64, Spectrum, Amiga, MSDOS
Developer, Ocean did a fine job of combining the platform genre with driving, flying and puzzle solving to create a fun and well rounded game that recreated key moments from Tim Burton’s film.
While the platforming levels may have gotten a little repetitive, what’s not to love about scaling huge buildings with your bat-rope and lobbing batarangs at trench coated ne’er-do-wells?
This was also the first time ever that players got to control the Batmobile and the Batwing in a video game; before using the Batcomputer to crack the code of Joker’s Smilex toxin and the final showdown at the Gotham cathedral.
7 year-old me loved venturing through the 8 (or if you were lucky 16) bit renderings of what remains my favourite film universe.
While there are a good few Bat-games on this lost this is undoubtedly the first one I fell in love with (though I frittered many an hour away on the potentially superb but infuriating Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988) too!).
Note for the Under 30s- You see, kids, in those days games came on cassette tapes, you remember those don’t you? You don’t? Oh. Well you had to wait for your computer to load the game. You know that little spinning wheel you get sometimes? Well, imagine that with music and if you were lucky, a blocky digitised picture, for about 10 minutes. We didn’t even get pissed off or anything.
9- Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)- Super Nintendo / Sega Megadrive (Genesis), Game Boy, Game Gear.
Basing a video game on a Hollywood blockbuster but to base one on a three issue run of comics is another altogether. Software Creations and LJN clearly thought the plucky young medium was up to the challenge and ended up creating one of the best platformersof its generation.
Starting as Spidey and then moving on to levels featuring X-Favourites Cyclops, Storm, Gambit and Wolverine, I remember the sheer thrill of getting to take these multiple protagonists for a test drive and dispatching bad guys with a range of Mutant powers.
In an age of games like Lego Marvel Superheroes where players can control pretty much every character in the Marvel Universe, each uniquely and lovingly animated with their own individual power set, it may seem like no big deal but for the time it was utterly ground breaking.
Getting to unleash a range of mutant powers on Marvel villains like Shocker, Rhino, Carnage and even Apocalypse was, is and always will be awesome fun!
8– Spider-Man and Venom : Maximum Carnage (1994)- Super Nintendo / Sega Megadrive (Genesis)
With the success of games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage side-scrolling beat-’em-ups were all the rage in the early 90s. As comics surged in popularity, it was only a matter of time before a plethora of games promising super-powered fisticuffs exploded onto the market.
Most were mediocre, some were just bad, but Maximum Carnage was a fun and action packed romp that boasted a huge cast of Marvel characters, digitised comic book panels and a midi soundtrack from comedy metal band Green Jelly (remember them?).
You’ll never find a videogame that more acutely encapsulates the look and feel of 90s comics.
A great deal of the fun came from playing co-operatively with a friend as Spidey and Venom, with the characters having the same moves with subtle changes in the animation that gave the sprites a sense of character. It was also a hoot having a small army of Marvel characters (such as Cloak & Dagger and Captain America) that could be called upon for support in a tight spot (in the form of screen-blitzing “smart bomb” attacks).
7- The Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994)- Super Nintendo (The game was also released in a very different and infinitely more shit form on the Megadrive/ Genesis).
Rocksteady weren’t the only ones who could pour a metric fuck-tonne of love and authenticity into a Batman game. With characters and environments lovingly modelled on the stellar animated series and featuring (for the time) top notch animation as well as a MIDI rendering of the classic soundtrack that didn’t make you want to headbutt a sea mine Konami produced what remains (for my money) one of the best and most authentic Batman games of all time.
Traversing the art deco environments of the animated series and using an arsenal of Bat-gadgets to battle a gauntlet of classic B:TAS villains was a delight to my childhood self, and the sprinkling of knowing Easter eggs for fans of the series were a welcome touch… Even if the Riddler level of the game did include a riddle that could only be solved if you’d seen a particular episode of the show (which I had, obviously).
6- Justice League Task Force (1994)- Super Nintendo / Sega Megadrive (Genesis)
Before Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013) there was another head-to-head beat ’em up featuring the Justice League.
Justice League Task Force was what might cynically be called a Street Fighter II clone that hit the heroes and villains against each other (and occasionally themselves) in single combat.
The “story” mode was unbelievably difficult and the story itself was pretty pants but for a twelve-year-old DC fan it was an unparalleled joy to have the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash go head to head and I played it until my thumbs blistered (literally!).
I still dust the cobwebs off on this one every now and then, although I struggle to comprehend how my inferior child’s brain managed to complete it ’cause it’s fucking rock hard!
5- Batman Forever (1995)- Super Nintendo / Sega Megadrive (Genesis)
Not to be confused with the utterly bizarre Batman Forever : The Arcade Game that came along on the PSOne. Like its cinematic forebear Batman Forever is pretty hit and miss, but as a huge aficionado of the scrolling beat ’em up I keep coming back to it again and again even 20 years after the fact (Jesus, has it really been that long?).
In the wake of the Mortal Kombat series, digitised characters were all the rage in the mid 90s. I suppose Probe and Acclaim were trying to give the game a cinematic feel; and, to be fair, the digitised characters and rendered environments (sans a lot of the film’s ubiquitous neon) look pretty good.
As with The Adventures of Batman and Robin, players got to choose a range of gadgets with which to incapacitate the hordes of bizarrely named villains and being able to play co-operatively as Batman and Robin was also tremendous fun.
In fact, my childhood best friend and I still break this one out and have a jam on it from time to time, even now.
Sure, it’s not perfect. The difficulty is infuriatingly uneven, the controls are a little fudgy and the gameplay is a little on the sluggish side but there’s hours of batarang throwing, rope swinging bad-guy twatting fun to be had here.
4- Batman & Robin (1997)- PSOne
This was a free roaming Batman game in a Gotham-shaped sandbox, in which players got to drive the Batmobile and other Bat-vehicles, fight villains, glide on bat-capes, use gadgets and do detective work almost 20 years before Arkham Knight.
For its ambition alone, it earned a place in my heart and revisiting it now, it holds up surprisingly well (for the most part).
Players got to choose between playing as Batman, Robin and Batgirl, which was a nice touch; and they could switch between characters at any time by returning to the Batcave and visiting the appropriate costume vault.
A lot of the detective work was unbelievably on-the-nose; scan a photograph and find a hidden message planning to rob a bank at 9pm, for example, but the notion of solving crimes in real time was a clever and ambitious idea.
Some dodgy collision detection made for a lot of frustration in gliding and combat but this is generally a pretty good game… And, needless to say, a fuck’s sight better than the film.
3- Batman : Vengeance (2001)- Playstation 2, X Box, GameCube
This game, based on the fourth series of the Batman Animated Series (aka Gotham Knights, aka The New Batman Adventures), boasts all of the virtues of its older brother The Adventures of Batman & Robin, with the added bonus of the outstanding voice acting of the BTAS cast (most notably Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as Joker and Tara Strong as Batgirl).
Indeed, this game is in many ways a proto-Arkham game.
While the combat isn’t quite as satisfying or intuitive as in Rocksteady’s games it’s still a marked improvement on its predecessors and the game plays very much as a Batman game should. Controls run pretty smoothly on the whole, although I could have done without having to go into First Person mode when I throw a batarang or launch a grapple gun.
Gameplay is engaging and varied and the storyline is absolutely solid, featuring an impressive cast of Bat-villains and a well paced plot that keeps the player engaged and motivated throughout.
This old favourite from my uni days still stands up to scrutiny.
2- Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (2002)- Playstation 2, X Box, Gamecube
Produced in the dying breaths of both Atari and Infogrames, this unlikely gold nugget is in many ways the best Superman game ever made.
Based on the animated series and lovingly rendered with cell-shaded charm the game looks and feels like an interactive episode of the beloved 90s cartoon. Like Batman: Vengeance, the game retains a lot of the series’ phenomenal voice cast led by the authoritative yet kindly bass tones of Tim Daly.
Lex Luthor as Clancy Brown, Dana Delaney as Lois Lane, Lori Petty as Livewire, all are on sparkling form and add enormously to the authenticity of the game.
Gameplay was fun and varied, if prone to glitches. The flying was handled pretty well and the ability to do barrel rolls and loop-the-loops was also welcome, as was the ability to kick into super speed while flying. While games like Superman Returns and Lego Batman 2 and 3 had bigger and better sandboxes for Supes to fly around in, getting around Metropolis was and is always a joy.
Also cool was the ability to use the full gamut of the Man of Steel’s powers. Heat vision would be used liberally, super breath could be used to send enemies flying, X Ray vision and super hearing could help locate hidden hostages and what’s more fun than being able to stride nonchalantly into a hale of bullets?
1- XMen: Legends (2005)- Playstation 2, X Box, GameCube, N-Gage (fuck me, remember them?)
Now then, while I’ll admit that the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games took the “Baldur’s Gate Avec Superheroes” formula into bolder and more successful territory this game cracked the code in terms of using the action/RPG genre to create an action packed yet narratively satisfying game set in the mythologically rich corner of the Marvel Universe that is the X-Men world.
The game does a good game of reeling you in with the adventured of fan-favourite Wolverine before switching viewpoint to the young Alison Crestmere (Magma) a young girl with volcanic powers. As Alison you get to train and eventually become an X-Men while studying at the Xavier mansion and hanging out with such familiar favourites as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and Ice Man.
The voice cast are phenomenal (with the one and only Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Charles Xavier) and the character interactions make this feel like a living breathing and lived in X-Men universe that it’s a genuine pleasure to move through.
With gameplay divided between action based missions in which the player gets to learn, master and upgrade a crazy massive bunch of mutant powers (which can be combined in character-specific combos) and story-heavy dialogue based RPG moments this game really does offer the best of both worlds.
Needless to say the game is unbelievably faithful to its source material with countless Easter eggs alluding to all of the many periods of the uncanny mutant team’s publication history.
So, there are 10 of my faves (in chronological order, not any order of preference), but I have a long list of honourable mentions;
Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988)
Spider-Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom’s Revenge (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)
Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety (1995)
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (2003)- Fuck you, I liked it!
Incredible Hulk : Ultimate Destruction (2005)
Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
Superman Returns (2006)
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (2008)
If I’ve committed some sort of travesty and missed out or undersold your favourite, then sound off below, or hit me up on one of those cool social media outlets the hip kids are always talking about.